600 African American Studies Faculty Sign Open Letter in Defense of AP African American StudiesHistorians in the News
tags: Florida, African American history, culture war, academic freedom, teaching history, critical race theory, Ron DeSantis
We are nearly 600 African American Studies faculty in higher education at dozens of colleges and universities and we are concerned about the future of our field. We write this letter to broadcast our outrage at the efforts of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to delegitimize the AP’s pilot curriculum in African American Studies, to intimidate the College Board into appeasement and wholesale revisions, and to deny the young citizens of his state the world-class education to which they have a right.
After years of careful development, a curriculum for African American Studies is set to be released to the public this week, and is scheduled to be piloted in sixty high schools across the country in the 2024–25 school year. Ordinarily, after the curriculum is piloted, it is revised and ultimately approved by universities for Advanced Placement, giving high school students who complete the class an opportunity to skip introductory courses and get into their major quickly once they enter college. AP students are hard-working, high-achieving, and motivated to learn, and AP courses are typically the most rigorous offerings in any high school, factoring into college admissions decisions and college course placement.
DeSantis’s demeaning actions promise a bypass of this ordinary review. In January, the state’s education department sent a letter to the College Board notifying it that the curriculum is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” Roughly a week later, the state’s commissioner of education tweeted, “We proudly require the teaching of African American history. We do not accept woke indoctrination masquerading as education.” He cited the inclusion of internationally-respected scholars with years of award-winning scholarship, marking them as dangerous socialists. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think,” DeSantis put it this way a week ago, “but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
This is censorship and a frontal attack on academic freedom. We categorically reject DeSantis’s autocratic claim to knowing what college-level material should be available in an AP African American Studies course. There is no precedent, of which we are aware, for him or the Florida Department of Education to claim expertise on any other subject matter for AP course adoption. No one person determines what is required for an AP class to receive credit at our colleges and universities. Contrary to DeSantis’s claims of promoting freedom in education, he is suppressing learning in his state and limiting the freedom of Florida students to choose what they can learn. He is destroying core educational principles that should be sacrosanct to all leaders in a democratic society.
We will not mince words. The contention that an AP curriculum in African American Studies “lacks educational value” is a proposition supported by white supremacist ideology, because it fundamentally demeans the history, culture, and contributions of Black people. This has terrible consequences for the young people of color who live in that state. It echoes other ongoing efforts across the United States to purge the public sphere of any mention of “divisive concepts,” or any conversation about the enduring fact of racism in the history of this nation, this hemisphere, and this world. It is also racism wrapped inside of homophobia. As such, it matches the Governor’s earlier — and ongoing — efforts to empty school library shelves of any book the state defines as “woke,” a purging that disproportionately impacts a broad body of work by Black and queer authors. If this broader effort to degrade, erase, and rewrite our history is successful, it would mean that the worst dystopias of science fiction have taken root, their encroachments on the classroom forcing us further down the path to an extraordinarily dangerous future.
Revisions should proceed in the normal customary fashion as established by the College Board in collaboration with educators, scholars, and institutional partners of its own choosing. We object to the effort of Governor DeSantis to circumvent the ordinary process for the review of an AP pilot curriculum. We object, as well, to his impoverished understanding of the significance of African American history, which has consequences for the young people of his state. We object to the offensive manner in which the Governor has yoked his efforts to extinguish the curriculum to a sprawling, multi-state effort to wield the power of the administrative state as a sword in these new culture wars. We object, finally, to the impact on young people, for whom the classroom is now a battleground, and who must sit with the words of their Governor, who has devalued the contributions of their forebears to American life, and wonder whether he sees them as citizens deserving to be educated or as pawns in the cruel combat he proposes.
Beyond these objections, we acknowledge the young people in Florida who are eager for this curriculum. We recognize our responsibility to ensure that the courses they take for college credit or placement are of the highest quality. And we promise them that we will work collectively to secure their access to this pilot curriculum, and also to the final AP course in African American Studies.